A tumultous year for the Alps’ famous three (wolves, bears and lynx) | WWF

A tumultous year for the Alps’ famous three (wolves, bears and lynx)

Posted on 20 January 2009
Brown bear (<i>Ursus arctos</i>) female embracing and taking care of one of her cubs.
Brown bear (Ursus arctos) female embracing and taking care of one of her cubs.
© Sanchez & Lope / WWF
The wolf population in the Alps appears to be on the increase.

There are now over 100 individuals in France and Italy, and approximately 40 in Germany. Records show that 8 individuals have now made it across the border from Italy into Switzerland with one sighted in the Obwald canton after an absence of 160 years.

Reception across the Alps has been mixed. Protection measures in France have caused a decrease of livestock predation despite the increase of the wolf population. This brought about a guarded acceptance of wolves by the local population.

In Valle d’Aosta, Italy, the reaction to the establishment of a new pack of wolves was altogether rather more negative, following a number of predations on livestock.

The Swiss’ welcome to the wolves has also been lukewarm, mostly caused by the predation on livestock during summer, which resulted in the sanctioned shooting of a few individuals.

Overall, it is quite clear that protection measures can be highly successful in limiting damage to domestic stock. This in turn leads to greater acceptance of the species. However, the implementation of protection measures is still rather limited, and takes place mostly after the wolves’ return instead of as a preventive measure.

In the border area between Italy, Germany and Switzerland, WWF is supporting a project focused on preparing for the arrival of bears (www.ursina.org). The Ursina Project aims at the implementation of livestock protection measures. Another goal is to inform the local population on how best to live with these majestic beings. 

Bears have also had a tumultuous year. The crossing of a couple of individuals into Switzerland from Italy met with a sad end. JJ3, the overcurious male bear from Trentino Alto Adige, was shot following the authorization of the Swiss government. His much shyer mate MJ4 made it back to Italy unharmed.

A population of 25-30 bears is present in the Italian Alps and the good news is that approximately 8 cubs were born in 2008 in the Trentino region. This is all the more important since the corridor linking Italy to Slovenia (where most of the bears originated from) seems to be scarcely used lately, due to the Slovenians’ harsh hunting policies.

However, also in Italy the co-existence between man and bear in 2008 has not been an easy one. JJ5 (JJ3’s brother), has been wrecking havoc to livestock only 100km from Milan. JJ5’s behavior has emphasized the need for prevention measures in this area where the typical situation is of small, unguarded flocks. Easy prey for bears!

In 2008 WWF Italy (with the Italian Ministry of the Environment) lead an important prevention program focusing on training Italian environment officials on bear management issues, providing ‘bear-proof’ fencing and informing the local population on effective co-existence measures.

The situation in the Austrian Alps is rather dire for bears: only 2 of the 30 original bears were confirmed to be alive. Poaching still seems to be the most serious threat for the bears’ survival in this country.

Lynx have traditionally been considered the ‘ghosts’ of the Alps because of the difficulty in tracking them. The healthiest population in the Alps resides in Switzerland, with a stable, albeit small population of 100 individuals.

A population of about 20-30 individuals is also present on the French side of the Jura mountains. In 2008 a radio-collared lynx crossed the border into Italy’s Stelvio National Park.
Austria and Italy are said to have a few individuals each but little is known of their exact numbers and location.

In Germany there are three small populations (eastern Bavaria, Black Forest/Pfälzerwald and Mittelgebirge Harz/Central Germany), but sadly they are all isolated from one another.

WWF’s efforts in 2008 have concentrated particularly on the implementation of livestock protection measures since they have proved not only successful in guarding against bears ands wolves, but also in turning public opinion around in favour of large carnivores.

Work in 2009 will continue with renewed energy, gathering strength from the quiet knowledge that the “famous three” are amongst us once again!

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